Thursday, December 30, 2021

The Heat of the Day by Elizabeth Bowen (1)


The Heat of the Day — Elizabeth Bowen

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10 responses to “The Heat of the Day — Elizabeth Bowen


    “….emptiness the music had not had time to fill. […] This Sunday on which the sun set was the first Sunday of September 1942.”

    We get to know things about Louie Lewis (of course) and the nameless man she meets by chance in Regent’s Park outdoor concert (that extends into dusk) and why their paths cross there and later uncross, she with her husband Tom at war, and memories of an airman, another nameless man (if my memory does not now play me false) who tickled her and thumbed her elbow earlier, and her childhood backstory at Seale on Sea (“once more she felt her heels in the pudding-softness of the hot tarred esplanade or her bare arm up to the elbow in rain-wet tamarisk. She smelt the shingle and heard it being sucked by the sea.”) — a seaside place that reminds me of Portia and that I must not now go to town with my deployment of this classic first chapter of this classic novel as fulsomely as I recently did with the whole of the serial public account of my experience of The Death of the Heart…
    I shall try to keep things shorter here, having just been swept away by the description of the music in the park and the nature of it massed audience, a concert eventually in the dark, plus the ambiance of the cigarette manipulations and the bodily minutiae, and not the detailed backstories of the two characters so much as ‘ghosty’ (sic) sidestories. Potential elbowstories, too?
    And I have already forgotten what I learnt about the nameless man and what path he was already on (other than he was off to meet a woman and had sat down in the park to listen to the music and to gather his thoughts about the impending meeting). But I seem to already know so much more about the woman surnamed Lewis….
    Just to report that this chapter’s overall info-secretion as opposed to its info-dump shifted and feinted with each character, at some points gruff and surly on his part, at other points pushy or flighty on her part. Flighty because of the earlier airman whom we heard about her canoodling with in a rose garden? Or flighty because of the untethered barrage balloon Louie points out in the park to the new nameless man. Or was he named? I forget again.


    “This man’s excessive stillness gave the effect not of abandon but of cryptic behaviour. He sat body bent forward, feet planted apart on the grass floor, elbows lodged on his knees, insistently thrusting the fist of his right hand against and into the open palm of his left.”

    “ – one of his eyes either was or behaved as being just perceptibly higher than the other. This lag or inequality in his vision gave her the feeling of being looked at twice – being viewed then checked over again in the same moment.”

    “….his nose was bony; he wore a close-clipped little that-was-that moustache.”

    “This was a face with a gate behind it –“

    “She could be felt to falter behind the barricade; and the programme, let go of by her as though incriminated, fluttered to the ground.”

    “The futility of the heated inner speed, the alternate racing to nowhere and coming to dead stops, made him guy himself.”

    “She had never had any censor inside herself, and now Tom her husband was gone – he was in the Army – she had no way of knowing if she were queer or not.”

    “Louie had, with regard to time, an infant lack of stereoscopic vision; she saw then and now on the same plane; they were the same. To her everything seemed to be going on at once;”

    “To this spot, to which Tom had been so much attached, a sort of piety made her bring any other man: she had thus the sense of living their Sundays for him.”

    “There is a freedom about an outdoor concert: you come or go at will –“

    As one does with Bowen.
    Time stood still, as I re-read, after many forgotten years, this, yes, this greatest opening chapter of any novel.


    “He was as a rule punctual, wheeling in on the quiver of the appointed hour as though attached to the very works of the clock.”

    Stella Rodney, fiddling with the acorns of a blackout-blind cord (a cord that later leaves a “red spiral weal” on her finger), wields the many low-level machinations and procedures and unlatched rituals of waiting, in her upstairs fiat in an otherwise empty building, for an uwelcome visitor, a man she seems to know as Harrison (who, I, for one, guess, has just listened to the park’s band with a female stranger called Lewis)… followed by the equally subtle machinations of two photographs in her Bowenesquely ready-furnished flat (one photo of her 20 year old son Roderick who pre-warns her at the end of this chapter by telephone that he is about to arrive in a surprise visit, and the second photo of a man called Robert Kelway), plus the machinations of the surrounding war, and the rituals of cigarette smoking and ash trays with Harrison who has come here with espionage or counter-espionage proposals regarding Kelway in the context of various backstories, Stella’s with a secret Y.X.D. complex worthy of a Brutt puzzle, Harrison’s backstory, Kelway’s biackstory, too, and the shadowy thirds of emotional relationship between them, one being a spy to be kept going or ditched, incriminating him or not, him- or herself in the game of war and scrying the pre-warned shifting of motives… You will of course know already this famous chapter but I am particularly intrigued in its explicit ‘being watched’ aspects, and whether this novel, now being watched with more substance by myself, now actually being enabled to recreate the book in the actual reading of it by means of a gestalt real-time review, and whether I should welcome its own complicit revisit to my already unlatched back door of a brain… or not.

    “As one does when thinking about an enemy, she endowed him with subtleties which, in his case, on second thoughts, were unlikely.”

    “…thus it was left to him to make his own way in, unmet half way,…”

    “Silence mounted the stairs, to enter her flat through the door ajar; silence came through the windows from the deserted street. In fact, the scene at this day and hour could not have been more perfectly set for violence –“

    “Nature had kindly given her one white dash, lock or wing in otherwise tawny hair; and that white wing, springing back from her forehead, looked in the desired sense artificial –“

    “He, having settled with the door, looked at the carpet, at the distances of carpet between them, as though thinking out a succession of moves in chess.”

    “Tightening her spreadout fingers above her elbows, she looked away from him at the windows across the street. […] She sat down on the stool by the escritoire, propping her elbow among the letters on the pulled-out flap.”

    “His mind was, where she was concerned, a jar of opaquely clouded water, in which, for all she knew, the strangest fish might be circling, staring, turning to turn away.”

    “How had he guessed her to be a woman with whom the unspecified threat would work?”

    “In other words, this is a crooks’ war?”

    Hesitating, he touched his moustache – as though it concealed a spring which could make his mouth fly open on something final. She

    “We’ve traced a leak – shortly, the gist of the stuff he handles is getting through to the enemy. For a good bit of time this has been suspected; now it’s established, known.”

    “I’ve never yet known a man not change his behaviour once he’s known he’s watched: it’s exactly changes like that that are being watched for. No, he’d let us know in an instant that he’d been tipped the wink: in which case, what? He’d be pulled in before anyone coud say knife, before he could tip the wink any further . . . I should not say anything to him if I were you.”

    “Having shaken a loose sleeve back, she supported an elbow against the chimneypiece, a side of her face against the palm of a hand, and continued to study him, though vacantly. He, having come to one of those pauses in his fidgety smoking, slowly slid his hands down into his pockets.
    ‘And as far as we’re concerned,’ he said, ‘think it over.’
    ‘I’d never love you.’”

    But this rapprochement in her flat between the two of them, ending with a possible irresistible kiss or, perhaps, a threatening embrace taking place amidst the shadowier thirds yet to be fathomed, shadowier even than this famous book itself could contain without having its rightful reader to wield them for the first time…

    “….and it was as unnerving as might be a brain-storm in someone without a brain.”


    “By every day, every night, existence was being further drained…[…]
    – a mysterious flutter, like that of a fire burning, which used to emanate from the minutes seemed to be at a stop.”

    This is London at war, structured into Stella’s tiny flat with a kitchenette, blackouted as equivalence with our lockdowned, as Stella and Roderick, when he arrived through a locked door, adjust their bodies, fat or thin, she as what? — he as young soldier as a contraption of bits and pieces, but a far more sensitive even autistic (?) lad, as well as adjusting their minds, mother and son. All couched in a tantalisingly elegant and poetic and truly felt stylishness that only Bowen can manage. London at war as a prophecy of its last two years in our own real-time, also London’s nature as a Mysterious Kôr… as they go to bed in separate tininesses …
    “the watery circle on the ceiling seemed for the moment to swell or tremble – so earthquake stories begin; but this could be only London giving one of her sleepy galvanic shudders, of which an echo ran through his relaxed limbs.”
    After much talk of Roderick’s unexpected Mount Morris house inheritance still being probated in Ireland, an inheritance through the backstory of his father (his mother’s once husband) and the piece of paper Roderick finds in the pocket of the silk dressing-gown that he borrow, a gown belonging to someone called Robert (the Kelway mentioned in the previous chapter who, I simply guess, rings Stella in the dying sleepy moments of this chapter) — a piece of paper that sort of presents a Major Brutt / Portia type puzzle for Stella, in the eyes of her son…
    “Like an ignorant looker-on at some famous game, trying to grasp the score and get the hang of the rules, he was watching to see what she would now do…“
    i.e. what she would do with the piece of paper?

    Better absorb the tidal movements of this chapter before Bowen tears it up…

    Firstly, my sort of Matchett monologue as reviewer
    — Pyjamas Roderick’s tin hat and paraphernalia is his mother putting on weight home as story Robert’s silk dressing two rooms each the other room a sofa-boat ‘the spoor of habit’ a detective the armchairs ash tray who had been standing so long with so much ash corn on Roderick’s foot not frostbite rose petals manhandled Roderick’s commission not as forthcoming as that of his pal Fred…

    “Had her parting with Harrison been of a different kind she would have called after him, as he went downstairs: ‘Please leave that door on the latch again, for Roderick!’ As things were, she had had the irritation of hearing Harrison pause outside, to make sure the door was shut, before making off down Weymouth Street. He had gone – but he had brought life to one of those passes when nothing is simple, not even opening a door.”

    “It was a time of opening street doors conspiratorially: light must not escape on to steps.”

    “Since he was seventeen, war had laid a negative finger on alternatives; […] Everybody was undergoing the same thing. The alternatives shadowed in Stella’s mind only troubled him in so far as they troubled her:”

    “ … by geographically standing outside war it appeared also to be standing outside the present.” 

    “…refolded the dressing-gown round his body, built himself up an elbow rest of brocade cushions […]
    Even the papers, letters, among which she had rested her elbow, listening to him, seemed to be contaminated;”

    “His body could at least copy, if not at once regain, unsoldierly looseness and spontaneity. And he traced his way back by these attitudes, one by one, as though each could act as a clue or signpost to the Roderick his mother remembered, the Roderick he could feel her hoping to see.”

    “As it was, the anomaly of her son’s looks made Stella no longer know where she was with him:”

    “His motives were too direct to be called ulterior; he liked going out to tea with families who had a brook through their garden, hypothetical snakes in their uncut grass, collections of any kind in cabinets, a haunted room, a model railway, a funny uncle, a desk with a secret drawer. He attached himself to the children of such families in a flattering, obstinate, reserved way – you still could not, somehow, accuse him of cupboard love.”

    “Every crack was stopped; not a mote of darkness could enter –“


    “Stella’s first view of him, glancing back, had been of someone stepping cranelike over the graves.”

    Having just re-read it, I feel this may be my favourite ever Bowen chapter, so utterly compelling in its strange-storyish, borderline future Aickman-absurdist, way — and my wonderment at how any author could have conceived such a plot’s strange backstory and still allowed us readily to believe it all!

    This is the funeral in the recent past of the man, Cousin Francis: who died ‘suddenly’ and unexpectedly left the Irish property to Roderick.
    Francis had travelled from Eire to see his wife Nettie in a mental institution called Wistaria [sic] Lodge (or as Harrison called it, “a nut house”) in England, a place managed by a couple called Tringsby. To follow what I could make further clear here in my real-time review, it would be better for you to read the chapter itself, but just with a few passing comments below…

    “…for by now the regulations affecting an Eire subject’s travel to England had been forbiddingly tightened up.”
    Like our own days today, alongside, later, in this chapter:
    “for ever-severer cuts in the train service so worked out that nobody could depart, on the up or down line,”
    “The butcher flaunted unknown joints of purplish meat in the confidence that these could not be bought;” etc. etc.
    And Francis died (by heart attack?) in the ‘nut house’ before seeing his wife in her room. But the fact Harrison was also at the funeral, an outsider, like Stella, ostracised by the rest of the family, enables him, as a mysterious stranger to everyone, to start grooming Stella, whose son is to be the beneficiary of the death, or does he do this grooming of her because he left some ‘papers’ with Francis whom he says he knew as a boy, and wants to get them back, and are they anything to do with the espionage machinations we already know about from the near future following this funeral?

    At first Stella thinks Harrison most be another of the older mental patients invited to make up numbers, as the corpse could not be shipped back to Eire for a larger funeral because of the travel restrictions that we still suffer today…
    “I took for granted you were a lunatic; and I am still not so certain that I was wrong.”

    “Stella had on the whole been grateful for the diversion Harrison’s presence caused. For her, the day had not been an easy one; it involved, as well as the train journey to this old-world nucleus of a new dormitory town, the presenting of some sort of face to her once relations-in-law. She had not seen any of them, they had not seen her, since the disastrous end of her short marriage;”

    “Cousin Francis’s death from a heart-attack at Wistaria Lodge could hardly have given more trouble: everything had had to be hushed up. It could have endangered the equilibrium of Dr and Mrs Tringsby’s six tranquil uncertified mental patients, of whom Nettie Morris, the dead man’s wife, was one.”

    “Mrs Tringsby so far rallied herself as to telephone to the florist’s for a beautiful wreath – which Cousin Nettie must send but not be allowed to see. Mrs Tringsby inscribed the card with:
    ‘From his loving wife
    Till the day break
    and the shadows flee away’.”

    “His [Francis’s] real object in making the journey to England had been to offer that country his services in the war – his own country’s abstention had been a severe blow, but he had never sat down under a blow yet.”

    “Several heads half-turned and at the half-turn paused.”
    when Stella entered the church.

    “One seemed to have left the churchyard with its alert headstones for a scene of less future, order, and animation.”

    “; it was by the merest chance that she had not been left to walk quite alone – one of the Tringsby patients had drawn alongside, but he skipped on and off the pavement and did not speak. Trying to fight off the influence of the street and day and still more of the memory of the grave – on which, it seemed to her, they had so shamefacedly, hurriedly turned their backs – she supported herself by thinking about Robert. When the lawyer bowed at her elbow and said how much he regretted Roderick’s having been unable to come, she explained for the second time that he was in the Army.” (My bold)

    “Some ideas, like dandelions in lawns, strike tenaciously: you may pull off the top but the root remains, drives down suckers and may even sprout again. Her uncontrovertible sense of Harrison’s queerness dated, she saw ever afterwards, from that day of the funeral.”

    “…he [the lawyer] took her to a recess under the stairs: surrounded by hanging macintoshes, he made known to her the effect of Cousin Francis’s will,…”

    The hanging macintoshes reminded of much else in Bowen, including those in her Aickman-absurdist story called LOVE (‘…seeing “what looked like a row of corpses, all hanging along on the one wall. Later, I noticed these were gentlemen’s mackintoshes.’)
    Wartime abstentions, notwithstanding. 

    “Any salesman would find him as easy to ‘interest’ as he would prove impossible to pin down. He could be written off as a famous waster of time.”

    So more backstory regarding Colonel Pole about fireproof roofs et al. Wasting time also being significant to Bowen fiction.

    “one would think twice these days about shipping a stiff to Ireland,”

    Thus, Colonel Pole tries to groom Stella off Harrison, and he suggests the inherited property a ‘white elephant’ for Roderick….

    “One thing he should do at once is take the roof off the house, or they’ll be popping nuns in before you can say knife. Tell him that from me.”

    “Harrison’s case, whipped out just not in time, snapped shut again like the jaws of a chagrined crocodile…”
    Bowen has many cigarette cases in her fiction. 

    Roderick later examines his legacy…
    “Why must lawyers always take out commas?”

    “One must not be too much influenced by a dead person!”

    “Cousin Nettie went off her chump; Ireland refused to fight. But that’s not the same as to say he let himself down.”

    Stella made some correction, I forget to whom, probably Harrison, which seems to predict Roderick later wearing Robert’s silk dressing-giwn, with another (significant?) paper left in its pocket… just as Harrison left ‘papers’, he says, with the now deceased Francis…
    “‘However, your young Robert – ’
    ‘– Roderick,’ she impassively corrected.”

    “But meanwhile the roof may fall in, or the trees blow down.”

  5. Pingback: The Heat of Our Cold Day | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews Edit


    “What the inheritance came to be for Roderick, Robert was for Stella – a habitat. The lovers had for two years possessed a hermetic world, which, like the ideal book about nothing, stayed itself on itself by its inner force.”

    About nothing, about everything, as our once sunny uplands beyond the boundary rope of Europe, here become the “sunny emptiness on the other side” of where London’s buildings are blitzed into rubble, in that September and Autumn in 1940 wherein Stella and Robert first met.
    From the previous chapter’s perfect sense of restrained absurdism to this chapter’s apotheosis of Bowen as well as love, poetry and death, and a comparison with our times today wherein we also float like shoals of the dead, a comparison that works except for one exception that proves the rule, an exception I shall come to at the end of the description of — and quotations below from — this greatest chapter in all literature, a chapter beyond the passion of other reading moments that I may have already dubbed as the greatest!

    Amidst the ruins and the makeshift parties of the community of ‘stayers-on’ in London, Stella met Robert with his intrinsic Dunkirk limp, a limp that stems from his damaged knee, another hinge, another crook, another hook upon which to hang good and bad alike…

    “…so deep a component of their intimacy that she wondered what, had they met before 1940, would have taken the place between them of his uncertain knee. The first few times they met she had not noticed the limp – or, if, vaguely, she had, she had put it down to the general rocking of London and one’s own mind.”

    I feel the ground rocking beneath me, too, today, at least in my imagination.
    Air raids and a love affair, poetry and death, tactile, sensory, all is here in dense passages of Proustian prose, clear and unclear alike like dispersing war smoke, and eventually becoming apotheosised as this chapter makes time stand still, with the Null Immortalis of Zeno’s Paradox then and still even now…

    “Most of all the dead, from mortuaries, from under cataracts of rubble, made their anonymous presence – not as today’s dead but as yesterday’s living – felt through London. Uncounted, they continued to move in shoals through the city day, pervading everything to be seen or heard or felt with their torn-off senses, drawing on this tomorrow they had expected – for death cannot be so sudden as all that.”

    “Who had the right to mourn them, not having cared that they had lived?”

    “The wall between the living and the living became less solid as the wall between the living and the dead thinned. In that September transparency people became transparent, only to be located by the just darker flicker of their hearts.”

    We have now felt it too, my generation and my generation’s generation below me, from those times now reached, reechoed….

    “…each hoped not to die that night, still more not to die unknown.”

    “It was from this new insidious echoless propriety of ruins that you breathed in all that was most malarial.”

    “Everywhere hung the heaviness of the even worse you could not be told and could not desire to hear. This was the lightless middle of the tunnel.”

    Face, hands, space…

    “Faith came down to a slogan, desperately reworded to catch the eye, requiring to be pasted each time more strikingly…”

    “: happy those who could draw from some inner source.”

    That vaccination heaven?….

    “So far, nothing had happened to anybody she knew, or even to anyone she knew knew – today, however, tingled all over from some shock which could be the breaking down of immunity.”

    “…she threw away any time she had gained by standing still.”

    “She had had the sensation of being on furlough from her own life.”

    “The very temper of pleasures lay in their chanciness, in the canvas-like impermanence of their settings, in their being off-time – to and fro between bars and grills, clubs and each other’s places moved the little shoal through the noisy nights.”

    “It was a characteristic of that life in the moment and for the moment’s sake that one knew people well without knowing much about them:”

    The start of the Robert-Stella syndrome so startlingly conjured amidst this scenario…

    “…for ever she was to see, photographed as though it had been someone else’s, her hand up. The bracelet slipping down and sleeve falling back,…”

    To reveal what?

    The near-distant thud of destruction that belied them here to match their later frozen cinema image, as absurdist as the previous chapter… (“He kept his thumb on his lighter. So in the cinema some break-down of projection leaves one shot frozen, absurdly, on to the screen.”)

    “With the shock of detonation, still to be heard, four walls of in here yawped in then bellied out;…”

    And like the Brutt-Portia puzzle…

    “Most first words have the nature of being trifling; theirs from having been lost began to have the significance of a lost clue.”

    “Nothing but the rising exhilaration of kindred spirits was, after all, to immortalize for them those first hours:”

    “The extraordinary battle in the sky transfixed them; they might have stayed for ever on the eve of being in love.”

    “…her wrist watch seemed to belie time; she fancied it had lost hours during the night,…”

    “…over the borderline of fiction – so much so that, making her way thither, she felt herself to be going to a rendezvous inside the pages of a book. And was, indeed, Robert himself fictitious?”

    “To miss from his eyes, mouth, forehead the knowable unguarded play of his nature was for her, for the first time, to be made feel its force. In the unfamiliar the familiar persisted like a ghost –“

    “The gilt-faced clock in the sunburst on the restaurant’s wall had, like others in London, been shock-stopped.”

    “…some kind of relationship of their own by never perfectly synchronizing –“

    And so they progress imperfectly towards what happened ahead in the second and third chapters above…

    “…from the rest so much that nothing was quite lost, little had gone to waste. His experiences and hers became harder and harder to tell apart; everything gathered behind them into a common memory –“

    “…everything came to be woven into the continuous narrative of love; which, just as much, kept gaining substance, shadow, consistency from the imperfectly known and the not said. For naturally they did not tell one another everything.”

    “– silence, when she and Robert came back together, stood storeys deep.”

    “War time, with its makeshifts, shelvings, deferrings, could not have been kinder to romantic love.”

    And THAT, my friend, is the threatened exception to the rule of our own times!
    Whereby we have been wearing face masks and socially distancing….?

    [The chapter ends, with telling irony, by their concentrating on his tie and, less absurdistly, a proposed visit to see his parents in the country.]

  7. Pingback: The Greatest Chapter in Literature | Brainstorming Bowen Edit

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen (5)


Part Five of my real-time review – as continued from HERE


All my reviews of Bowen novels will be linked here:

All my links of Bowen stories:

My gestalt real-time review will be conducted in the comment stream below:

12 thoughts on “The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen

  1. Part Three: 3

    “‘… It’s simply chance, after all. You can’t foresee anything. Look, for instance, how I ran into you. In a book, that would sound quite improbable.’”

    …this is Brutt speaking to Anna, about his near miss encountering Robert Pidgeon….think about it, and you need to think a lot in this chapter, to gnaw through the words time and time again, till they cease gnawing at you… Brutt having recently just missed running into Pidgeon, just as Anna and Thomas once ran into Brutt, by similar coincidence, all those book-pages of plot ago…

    “‘And yet, do you know, though I cursed missing him, it seemed better than nothing. When he’s once turned up, he may turn up again.’
    ‘Yes, I do hope he’ll turn up – But not where I ever am.’
    Fatalistically, she faced having got this out at last.”

    Any such homing of that lost pigeon (!) would have gone amiss, I guess. 

    “Why are you not Mrs Pidgeon? You are still you, and he still sounds like himself. You both being you was once all right with you both. You are still you – what has gone wrong since?”

    “I just thought I’d clear that up about Robert and me. No, if I do seem a little rattled today, it is from being rung up in the middle of lunch and told by a stray young man that Portia is not happy. What am I to do?”

    Eddie had earlier rung Anna to divulge that secret I would not earlier divulge about what St Q divulged about the secret he’d had from Anna… and so Ann’s says to him…
    “‘If you were me, then, you’d just tell Eddie to go to the devil?’” [How can a devil go to the same devil, I ask?] “‘Not right away, I do hope. I am so glad, at any rate, that you’re not going to Shropshire. Thomas and I were mad to consider that idea;…”

    And indeed we just had to sit through a whole scene with two minor characters from Shopshire that Anna had just tried to get Brutt a job with, to help his ‘irons in his fire’…

    “‘It’s fatal’, she concluded, holding her hand out, ‘to be such a good friend to a selfish woman like me.’ With her hand in his, being wrung, she went on smiling, then not only smiled but laughed, looking out of the window as though she saw something funny in the park.”

    See I keep gnawing off the words of this chapter and throwing to you their leftovers to see what you can with them by means of a sort of veiled literary cannibalism, I guess. Minor characters need to be chewed well just as much as main ones, though. Even Mr and Mrs Peppingham from Shropshire.


    “Coming out from lessons, the girls [Portia and Lilian] stepped into an impermeable stone world that the melting season could not penetrate –“

    Two or three elbows, now, to get down to the bones or Bowens of, now, in the next section, not so much a diselbowing as one friend disemboweling another friend with words and innuendos, however simple minded these two young friends are? — 

    “When they came to the crossing, Lilian gripped Portia’s bare arm in a gloved hand: through the kid glove a sedative animal feeling went up to Portia’s elbow and made the joint untense. She pulled back to notice a wedding carpet up the steps of All Souls’, Langham Place – like a girl who has finished the convulsions of drowning she floated, dead, to the sunny surface again. She bobbed in Lilian’s wake between the buses with the gaseous lightness of a little corpse.
    ‘Though you are able to eat,’ said Lilian, propping her elbows on the marble-topped table and pulling off her gloves by the finger-tips (Lilian never uncovered any part of her person without a degree of consciousness: there was a little drama when she untied a scarf or took off her hat),…”

    “…you told me there was a plot. […] Of course I call that a plot. […] I don’t mean a plot like that.”

    And I challenge anyone to disembowel the whole impenetrable but probably marvellous pair of paragraphs quoted in full below (marvellous, should one finally manage to parse and construe, if not disembowel, the semantic words and their syntax) from the end of the chapter, about Lillian as confidante to Portia’s foolhardy appointment at Convent Garden (with Eddie presumably to chew the fat over secrets divulged and varying umbrages taken) — 

    “There is no doubt that sorrow brings one down in the world. The aristocratic privilege of silence belongs, you soon find out, to only the happy state – or, at least, to the state when pain keeps within bounds. With its accession to full power, feeling becomes subversive and violent: the proud part of the nature is battered down. Then, those people who flock to the scenes of accidents, who love most of all to dwell on deaths or childbirths or on the sick-bed from which restraint has gone smell what is in the air and are on the spot at once, pressing close with a sort of charnel good will. You may first learn you are doomed by seeing those vultures in the sky. Yet perhaps they are not vultures; they are Elijah’s ravens. They bring with them the sense that the most individual sorrow has a stupefying universality. In them, human nature makes felt its clumsy wisdom, its efficacy, its infallible ready reckoning, its low level from which there is no further drop. Accidents become human property: only a muffish dread of living, a dread of the universal in our natures, makes us make these claims for ‘the privacy of grief’. In naïver, humbler, nobler societies, the sufferer becomes public property; the scene of any disaster soon loses its isolated flush. The proper comment on grief, the comment that returns it to poetry, comes not in the right word, the faultless perceptive silence, but from the chorus of vulgar unsought friends – friends who are strangers to the taste and the mind.
    In fact, there is no consoler, no confidant that half the instinct does not want to reject. The spilling over, the burst of tears and words, the ejaculation of the private personal grief accomplishes itself, like a convulsion, in circumstances that one would never choose. Confidants in extremis – with their genius for being present, their power to bring the clearing convulsions on – are, exceedingly often if not always, idle, morbid, trivial, or adolescent people, or people who feel a vacuum they are eager to fill. Not to these would one show, in happier moments, some secret spring of one’s nature, the pride of love, the ambition, the sustaining hope: one could share with them no delicate pleasure in living: they are people who make discussion impossible. Their brutalities, their intrusions, and ineptitudes are, at the same time, possible when one could not endure the tender touch. The finer the nature, and the higher the level at which it seeks to live, the lower, in grief, it not only sinks but dives: it goes to weep with beggars and mountebanks, for these make the shame of being unhappy less. So that, that unendurable Monday afternoon (two days after Portia had seen Eddie with Anna, nearly a week after St Quentin’s revelation – long enough for the sense of two allied betrayals to push up to full growth, like a double tree) nobody could have come in better than Lilian. The telephone crisis, before lunch at Miss Paullie’s, had been the moment for Lilian to weigh in. To be discovered by Lilian weeping in the cloakroom had at once brought Portia inside that subtropical zone of feeling: nobody can be kinder than the narcissist while you react to life in his own terms. To be consoled, to be understood by Lilian was like extending to weep in a ferny grot, whose muggy air and clammy frond-touches relax, demoralize, and pervade you. The size of everything alters: when you look up with wet eyes trees look no more threatened than the ferns. Factitious feeling and true feeling come to about the same thing, when it comes to pain. Lilian’s arabesques of the heart, the unkindness of the actor, made her eye Portia with doomful benevolence – and though she at this moment withdrew the cake plate, she started to count her money and reckon up the cost of the taxi fare.”

    I have now masticated all that time and time again, and I still cannot digest the meaning. Literary critique as failed flaying and flensing. But Portia’s ‘gaseous lightness of a little corpse’ is too rarefied to get a grip on, while Lilian has meat on her bones, though!

    To repeat: “‘Though you are able to eat,’ said Lilian, propping her elbows on the marble-topped table and pulling off her gloves by the finger-tips…”

  2. “I couldn’t help laughing; it just shows how true novels really are.” – Elizabeth Bowen (from the short story, ‘Making Arrangements.’)

    Part Three: 4

    “You must have been reading novels.”

    I couldn’t help laughing along with my previous hypotheses that Eddie is a template for a figure in our times, not to be blamed on Bowen as the prophetic cause of an effect, but more a fateful synchronicity that may create a healing catharsis or destructive fatalities?…
    When Eddie and Portia have it out in his flat after they left Convent Garden..

    “Across the façades, like a theatre set shabby in daylight, and across the barren glaring spaces, films of shade were steadily coldly drawn, as though there were some nervous tide in the sky.”

    …this being the “hellish pavements’ of Convent Garden – more now, than it was then?
    “London is full of such deserts, of such moments, at which the mirage of one’s own keyed-up existence suddenly fails.”

    The Kôr within the ‘moving dangerously’ towards not a magnetic but a ‘macabre north’ in a different novel. Before Eddie vanishes, with mock shyness, into the figurative fridge?

    “… ‘Now for God’s sake, darling – you really must not cry here.’
    ‘I only am because my feet do hurt.’
    ‘Didn’t I say they would? Round and round this hellish pavement. Look, shut up – you really can’t, you know.’ […]
    Portia knocked her crushed hat into shape on her knee. […]
    Knotting her hands in their prim, short gloves together she screwed her head away…”

    Eddie: “How can we grow up when there’s nothing left to inherit, when what we must feed on is so stale and corrupt? No, don’t look up: just stay buried in me.”

    Echoing those predictive ‘convulsions’ quoted in my previous entry above…

    “The tears shed in that series of small convulsions – felt by him but quite silent – had done no more than mat her lashes together.”

    “In the state he was in, his enemies seemed to have supernatural powers: they could filter through keyholes, stream through hard wood doors.”

    The elbowy Portia … first in his flat, later as she leaves… with the ‘speed’ that often changes back and forth to slowth in this novel…

    “With the crane-like steps of an overwrought person, […] Her childish long-legged running, at once awkward (because this was in a street) and wild, took her away at a speed which made him at once appalled and glad.”

    “Whatever manias might possess him in solitude, making some haunted landscape in which cupboards and tables looked like cliffs or opaque bottomless pools,…”

    “His animal suspiciousness, his bleakness, the underlying morality of his class, his expectation of some appalling contretemps which should make him have to decamp from everything suddenly were not catered for in his few expensive dreams – for there is a narrowness about fantasy: it figures only the voulu part of the self.”

    “Because I don’t know, do you know? I may be some kind of monster; I’ve really got no idea …”

    “That’s what’s the devil; that’s just what I mean. You don’t know what to expect.”

    Who said that last bit above?

    “All the other women I’ve ever known but you, Portia, seem to know what to expect, and that gives me something to go on.”

    “You’ve got a completely lunatic set of values, and a sort of unfailing lunatic instinct that makes you pick on another lunatic – another person who doesn’t know where he is. You know I’m not a cad, and I know you’re not batty. But, my God, we’ve got to live in the world.”

    And with a novelistic device worthy of Zeno, this chapter ends with Eddie reading a letter from Anna about telephone calls (as immediate as today’s whatsapps), a letter ironically sent round to him by special messenger for speed’s sake instead of relying on the post, the same letter that I had already read much earlier!

  3. Part Three: 5

    “Their builders must have built to enclose fog, which having seeped in never quite goes away.”

    …being the sort of downside hotels that are not like those in Poliakoff film dramas but such dramas somehow have an essence of an older London and of Bowen in them. This one the Karachi Hotel, as a wonder-desiccated version of what I envisage Kôr Hotel to be, I guess?..

    “…the place is a warren. The thinness of these bedroom partitions makes love or talk indiscreet.”
    With the previous ‘convulsions’….
    “The floors creak, the beds creak; drawers only pull out of chests with violent convulsions;… […] Most privacy, though least air, is to be had in the attics, which were too small to be divided up. One of these attics Major Brutt occupied.”

    The scene I remember most from my previous reading of this book, and you will not need me to tall you why this is the case… the measurement of a sleepwalker as Major Brutt is sought by Portia as her naively idealised and older version or Platonic Form of Eddie who had let her down as a conspirator with all the others (except perhaps Matchett), a desperate port in a storm of disillusionment… a Bursley hopefully without the Bursitis for her bodily parts, elbows and knuckles and knees as representative of her spiritual parts? Brutt — in spite of such inner Proustian selves and his selfishness about Windsor Terrace as a haven or heaven for himself — is, in fact, her disarmingly would-be saviour but in ways he or she could never have predicted.
    Only in the truth of novels and their arrangements… 

    “: he felt Portia measuring his coming nearer with the deliberation of a desperate thing – then, like a bird at still another window, she flung herself at him. Her hands pressed, flattened, on the fronts of his coat; he felt her fingers digging into the stuff. She said something inaudible. Grasping her cold elbows he gently, strongly held her a little back.”

    “Having let go of her elbows he reached, when he had sat down, across the arm of his chair, caught her wrist and pulled her round to stand like a pupil by him.”

    “They sat almost knee to knee, at right angles to each other, their two armchairs touching.”


    “Having things out would never stop, I mean.”

    “But she interposed: ‘Oh, quickly! I’m starting to cry.’ She was: her dilated dark eyes began dissolving; with her knuckles she pressed her chin up to keep her mouth steady; her other fist was pressed into her stomach, as though here were the seat of uncontrollable pain. She moved her knuckles, to mumble:…”

    The scratchy unMatchetty Karachi Hotel as a gestalt house… Waikiki and Windsor Terrace and all the hotels she stayed with her mother….

    “This house seemed to have no top – till she came to the attic floor. At Windsor Terrace, that floor close to the skylight was mysterious with the servants’ bodily life; it was the scene of Matchett’s unmentioned sleep.”

    “After that second, she was looking doubtfully over a lumpy olive sateen eiderdown at a dolls’ house window dark from a parapet.”

    “Unhappy on his bed, in this temporary little stale room, Portia seemed to belong nowhere, not even here.”

    “He tried: ‘Or look at it this way –’ then spoilt this by a pause. He saw what a fiction was common sense.”

    “She had turned to grasp his bed-end, to bend her forehead down on her tight knuckles. Her body tensely twisted in this position; her legs, like disjointed legs, hung down: her thin lines, her concavities, her unconsciousness made her a picture of premature grief. Happy that few of us are aware of the world until we are already in league with it.”

    This novel’s title transcended? —

    “…he felt her knocking through him like another heart outside his own ribs.”

    “With a quite new, matter-of-fact air of possessing his room, she made small arrangements for comfort – peeled off his eiderdown, kicked her shoes off, lay down with her head into his pillow and pulled the eiderdown snugly up to her chin.”

    “…picked up his two brushes, absently but competently started to brush his hair. So that Portia, watching him, had all in that moment a view of his untouched masculine privacy,…”

    No telephone in his room — an irony alongside Bowen’s previous business with telephones…
    cf YOUR TINY HAND IS FROZEN by Robert Aickman!…

    “Without any further comment, she turned over and put her hand under her cheek. Her detachment made her seem to abandon being a woman – she was like one of those children in an Elizabethan play who are led on, led off, hardly speak, and are known to be bound for some tragic fate which will be told in a line; they do not appear again; their existence, their point of view has had, throughout, an unreality. At the same time, her body looked like some drifting object that has been lodged for a moment, by some trick of the current, under a bank, but must be dislodged again and go on twirling down the implacable stream.”

    “…started down to go to the telephone – his somnambulist’s walk a little bit speeded up, as though by some bad dream from which he still must not wake.”

    “But as he went into the upright telephone coffin, he did not doubt for a moment that he was right to telephone, though they might laugh, they would certainly laugh, again.”

  4. Part Three: 6

    “Do we know what the right thing is?’
    ‘I suppose that’s what we’re deciding.’
    ‘We shall know if we don’t do it.’ […]
    ‘– you know, we are all in it. We know what we think we’ve done, but we still don’t know what we did.’”

    We as readers, too, as we shadowy readers meet this subtle Ivy Compton-Burnett conversation amid the St Q-A-T threesome, as they fathom the Portia situation, when receiving the call from Brutt. Subtleties of conversation as Pinteresque moments and pauses and shocks….

    “Shocks are inclined to be cumulative.”

    “What a help telephones are!”

    Telephones help create margins for the gaps and pauses, even a household telephone, here, as well as a public network, or simple Internet….

    “‘I’m afraid I should not be much help, even if I were not here … I’m so sorry I can’t think of anything to suggest.’
    ‘Well, do try. You’re a novelist, after all. What do people do?”

    A novelist within a novel we try to scry. We want to do the right thing, make the right analysis, to help fetch Portia back, even with a nursery rhyme as an incantation or refrain or spell to induce such fetching!

    “– she did not even see St Quentin’s fishy look; she had no idea he had anything on his mind.”

    Who told whom about a real-time review disguised as diary?

    “…’there are no half measures. We either have dinner or telephone the police …’”

    “Just after the duck came in, the dining-room telephone started ringing.”

    “And why Brutt? Where does he come in?’
    ‘He has sent her puzzles.’”

    “Why did you say he [Eddie] was bright if you say he is such a donkey, and if he’s such a donkey, why is he always here?”

    The place that would have been a different place without him, a different plot. I even imagined he may have become Matchett’s given taxi-driver at the end, to whom she spoke as part of a Joycean soliloquy, also a monologue as a conversation with an invisible Portia. With Matchett not even knowing the name of the hotel to which she had been sent, Matchett being without the omniscience of us readers… 

    “From the outside we may seem worthless, but we are not worthless to ourselves. If one thought what everyone felt, one would go mad.”

    That mad gestalt we already ‘felt’, even if we never enter the Karachi at the end.


    “… No, she is growing up in such a preposterous world that it’s quite natural that that little scab Eddie should seem as natural to her as anyone else. […] – the chap who breaks his own arm to avoid going back to school, then says some big bully has done it for him; […] It takes nerve to make a fuss in a big way, and our Eddie certainly has got nerve. But it takes guts not to, and guts he hasn’t got.”

    He might even make Prime Minister one day!

    “All the same, you are so brutal. Does one really get far with brutality?”

    My weak memory cannot now recall who asked that question, but Brutt was never brutal? It may not even have been a question about him. 

    “If the world’s really a stage, there must be some big parts. All she asks is to walk on at the same time.”

    “Their being so knit up. They sometimes look like each other.” – Matchett and Portia, their bones matched. An arch of bones in a previous chapter. Elbows woven with elbows. Connected as a caryatid with caryatid.

    “You know quite well Matchett stays with the furniture. No, you inherited the whole bag of tricks.”

    “Matchett – is that the woman with the big stony apron, who backs to the wall when I pass like a caryatid? She’s generally on the stairs.”

    “An empty room gets this look towards the end of an evening – as though the day had died alone in here.”

    Matchett’s monologue…

    “When at moments she thought, she thought in words.”

    “Oh, he might say to me, and as saucy as anything, but you’ve come to the wrong place. Let alone they ought to have said, I should have had it in writing.”

    “Then I said to myself, well, we’re off to – and I stopped.”

    “To start with, you never said you would not be back for your tea. I’d got a nice tea for you, I was keeping it.”

    “I couldn’t believe the clock.”

    “In the Karachi Hotel drawing-room, someone played the piano uncertainly.”

    Then the reader becomes novelist. Clincher in the reader’s real-time of the book’s end gestalt. Portia’s (as also perhaps with Bowen’s Pauline elsewhere in my concurrent real-time review) at a doll’s house window… 


    “one elbow each side”